Preparing for a Corporate Finance Career while in College

What can you do to get ready or to prepare for a career in Corporate Finance for someone still in college or university? This is one of the more frequent questions I receive. Today I want to share some guidance for anyone thinking ahead for a career in corporate finance.

Take the right classes

Some recommendations of classes that will get you going in the right direction
– Finance classes… if you’re a finance major, you will probably have some required classes, but wherever possible I would focus on: any and all corporate finance classes, financial modeling, financial management (this should be business related not financial planning), international / multinational finance, financial statement analysis, risk management
– Accounting classes … a lot of finance majors don’t take enough accounting. I would recommend taking as much as you can of: financial accounting, accounting systems and controls, cost accounting, managerial accounting, financial statement analysis
– Other … macro and micro economics, statistics or analytic based classes (including software)

Master Microsoft Excel

Learn to love Excel. You will use it…. A lot. Your first few years in finance you and Excel will become very close friends, more like family. You will love each other sometimes, and sometimes you will fight. But at the end of the day, you need your family. Get fast, use shortcuts, know core tools like vlookups, pivot tables, sumifs, subtotals, index/match, maybe even learn some basic vba/macros if you can. If you learn this prior to getting the job it will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Learn to model and get paid to do some modeling

As you become good at Microsoft Excel, I would suggest taking it a step farther. Get paid to do some work in excel. There are sites like upwork and fiverr where you can get paid to do some freelance / outsourced work. Set-up a profile and go bid on some jobs. There is no better way to hone your craft than to take on projects, figure out how to structure your work, and then actually execute it. This real experience is very valuable, and you can make a few bucks.

Analytics and software

I would recommend attempting to learn one extra skill that will help with something that will enable you to do more advanced analysis. I’d recommend learning Alteryx, but you could also think about learning Python, or R. Developing an ability to do advanced analytics can help you differentiate your work in your early career.

Build your business and finance acumen

There is a language of business and finance that is helpful to be able to speak when you get into the workforce. It’s also helpful to have a strong business acumen for those times you might get into a more casual conversation with your boss, or your boss’s boss… and maybe they will even ask your opinion. Some easy ways to build this acumen are to read books on business. Read publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, or the Financial times.

One other great thing you could do is to go read a company’s full annual report, study their financial statements, then listen to a few of their investor call and Q&A session. You will learn a ton about a company, but you will also hear how the CFO & CEO talk about the company. That is a great source to learn the language of business.

Intern or Co-op

One of the best ways to launch yourself into a great entry level job or financial leadership development program is to intern. Some of those FLDP programs have dedicated intern programs, some other internships are more generic. No matter what, that experience of getting real-world time in a job, while you are still in school, is extremely valuable. Be sure you use your school’s career center and aim to start into internships and co-ops as early as possible.

Be interesting

At the end of the day, people like to work with interesting people. I also think companies and hiring managers tend to be biased toward hiring people who are interesting. Remember to follow your passions and interests beyond school and business. Embrace who you are and share it.

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